We all know pop is a hypersexualised medium; witness the prima facie bump’n’grind of everyone from Beyoncé to FKA twigs via Miley Cyrus. And yet most descriptions of Peaches (aka Merrill Nisker) usually feel obliged to qualify her output as outrageous or controversial, probably because she doesn’t play the dead-eyed moll. She would much rather scare the pants off you than assume the position.
Over four studio albums (as Peaches), eye-popping concert tours, a one-woman remake of Jesus Christ Superstar and collaborations with artists as diverse as Iggy Pop and Feist, Peaches has made it her life’s work to take frankness to places it doesn’t usually venture: the realm of the absurd, into art, into politics (Impeach My Bush was the title of her 2006 album). Close Up, the lead track from her fifth album, Rub, is a breathy collaboration with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon stuffed with attitude and tongue-in-cheek wordplay. Here, “testosterone” rhymes with “Blendr, Tinder, finder, Grindr/Romance the phone”. (The song takes on yet another dimension in its lurid boxing-themed video.)
Throughout, there have been tunes, rather than mere diatribes, informed by queer feminist theory. From Fuck the Pain Away, the breakout track from her breakout album, The Teaches of Peaches, all the way through to Talk to Me, a killer single from I Feel Cream, Peaches’ half-rapped, half-sung electro has married explicit body music to nagging melody. Controversially, Talk to Me featured no smut at all. It was an appeal, howled at a lover, to be straight with Peaches, emphasising the deeper emotional currents that often underlie her non-suitability for work.
Rub – Peaches’ first album in six years – offers up multiple flavours of raw Peach: musical, gynaecological and emotional, all of them sweet. The title track is hilariously triple X-rated (“Tell on my pussy/ Whistleblow my clit”), Peaches’ staccato raps matched by stark beats and lubricious digitals.
Just as mischievous and even more minimal, Dick in the Air borrows from both the Neptunes circa Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot and hip-hop trap beats, dragging in references to Sisyphus and Ayn Rand alongside various body parts. Other female performers have bestrode their audiences like a “top” – Grace Jones, Madonna – but few have gloried in the pan-sexual freedom offered up by Peaches’ tongue-in-cheek pleasure palace, where anything goes as long as it’s consensual. Nestled in the heart of the tracklisting, however, Free Drink Ticket is this album’s unexpected blow to the solar plexus, a rant at a former confidant, which features Peaches’ vocal pitch-shifted malevolently downwards.
Every production here feels leaner and more rubbery than the last, courtesy of the tight, two-person DIY production team of Peaches and Vice Cooler. To some ears, this approach might lack variety, but there are multiple ways to dice “barely there”. Songs such as Sick in the Head lean closer to the monochrome pulse of electronic pioneers Suicide, while Light in Places is easily Rub’s most forthcoming tune, a Moroder-ish helicopter drone with lashings of disco transcendence. “I got light in places/ You didn’t know it could shine,” coos Peaches. Naturally, the video features a trapeze artist with a torch nestled in her unmentionables.